Transport for London (TfL) has rejected an advertisement submission from UK delivery company Farmdrop due to the inclusion of food products it says do not comply with high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) guidelines.
The proposed advertisement features a young family around a kitchen counter laden with fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as refrigerated and pantry items such as peanut butter, lemons and wine. The submission also includes cured meat, butter, eggs and jam.
Farmdrop was surprised to learn that the image did not comply with the transport authority’s updated legislation regarding the advertisement of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
“Naturally, we were pretty shocked that a picture of some fresh groceries with a healthy mixture of fruits and vegetables, dairy, eggs and cupboard staples would flout TfL’s new junk food rules,” writes Farmdrop in a blog entry.
Behind the guidelines
TfL’s revised advertising policy, which came into effect on 25 February 2019, follows the nutrient profiling model developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The guidelines (available here) aim to curb obesity rates in the UK by banning the promotion of HFSS food and beverage items, which are identified via a points scoring system.
As per the model – which is also adopted by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – points are allocated on the basis of the nutrient content of 100 g of a food or drink.
Points are awarded for ‘A’ nutrients (energy, saturated fat, total sugar and sodium), and for ‘C’ nutrients (fruit, vegetables and nut content, fibre and protein). The score ‘C’ nutrients is then subtracted from the score for ‘A’ nutrients, to give the final nutrient profile score. ‘Less healthy’ foods are those that score 4 or more points.
According to a TfL spokesperson, the new policy ensures that food perceived to be unhealthy is no included in its advertisement spaces. “This follows the same advertising model that has been used by broadcast for children, so it’s something that the food and drink industry already use,” the spokesperson told FoodNavigator.
Farmdrop, however, has spoken out against the model, which it described as “pretty crude”.
“[It] means that foods you would still think of as junk, like fizzy drinks with artificial sweeteners or low-fat fried foods, could in some scenarios comply with the new regulations.”
‘Some of the items weren’t compliant’
In the case of Farmdrop’s advertisement, certain products’ nutritional information did not stand up against the nutrient profiling model, we were told.
“Some of the items weren’t compliant, like jam and butter,” the spokesperson continued, explaining that an amendment was requested to remove the HFSS products.
Alternatively, a company can ask for an exception if it can prove that the product in question is not contributing to the problem of childhood obesity. In that case, TfL would then consider the exception submission, before making a call on whether the ad would run or not.
Transport for London’s official statement highlights the seriousness of London’s obesity and overweight rates, which stand at close to 40% for children aged 10 and 11.
“This ban is designed to reduce children’s exposure to adverts for food and drink which could contribute to this problem,” says TfL.
“Our advertising policy requires brands to demonstrate that any food or drink products featured in advertisements running on our network are not high in fat, sugar and salt, unless they have been granted an exception. In this case, Farmdrop chose not to apply for an exception and our advertising agent worked with them to amend the advertisement.
“We have never said that eggs do not comply with the policy."
“[Farmdrop] didn’t ask for an exception, and they’ve just cropped the advert so that it can run from next week,” the spokesperson said.
This appears to be a point of contention. “Farmdrop applied for an exception to the rule but the decision won’t be made soon enough for this campaign,” the company writes in its blog.
What is clear, however, is Farmdrop’s support for restrictions on junk food promotions. “Preventing brands from aggressively advertising junk food to children on the transport network is a step in the right direction and we fully support it.”
For Farmdrop, the issue is in the policy’s application. “We hope that TfL sees some sense and starts to apply the ban with a little better judgement.”